Composers without face – Interview with the Asche & Spencer

There are two released soundtracks from the Asche & Spencer group which contains many musicians. However it is straightforward that the music of Monster's Ball and Stay (will arrive in Hungarian cinemas soon) will always be a success if directors give way for slower, more experimental and more unique themes, which rise over the traditional soundtracks with their special characteristics. Thad Spencer answers our questions.

How do you consider yourself? An adman or a musician?

We are not admen. We are a small group of composers. We do a great deal of composing for commercials, but we manage to stay away from the business side of the advertising world.

How big challenge is to compose music for advertisements?

We find it to be very interesting. The ability to take on many different projects each month is quite fun. In one week we may be asked to write something epic requiring an 80 piece orchestra, and something fast and electronic based. We are allowed to explore many styles of music and are well paid for it. We are constantly learning and growing as we work in this field.

What do you think about the fact that these music are not really for the future? Doesn´t it disturb you?

I assume you are referring to the short life of advertising music. That doesn´t bother us. In many ways the short lifespan is what keeps it interesting. The advertising industry is in constant need of new music. Therefore we are allowed to continue growing and exploring new musical directions.

What is the procedure for selecting a composer for a given ad at you? Do you have separate categories and its specific representatives? Or everybody is "equal" and you select the composer who is actually free?

We work on every project together. We talk as a group about how we would like to approach the project, then we set out to do the work. During the composing and recording process we collaborate with each other constantly. The end result is a body of work that comes from a place of diversity, not just one guy sitting in a room alone. This method also affords our clients the luxury of having many musical options to choose from.

How did you get into the world of movies?

It has been a natural migration from the work we do in advertising. We have a facility in Venice California, so the film business has always been very close to us. Music for film may be longer, but our process is the same.

Aren´t your colleagues disturbed by the fact that they aren´t visible for the public in the Asche & Spencer productions?

I assume you are referring to the composers that make up Asche & Spencer. We are not disturbed by how we are credited. The way that we work and receive credit is both honest and marks a refreshing change in the way Hollywood looks at composers.

Do you perceive the similarities with Hans Zimmer´s firm, the Remote Control Productions, where many composers are contributing "invisible"?

We are the opposite of Hans Zimmer´s company. We are not invisible ghostwriters hiding behind one persons name. Each of us is an evolved member of the composing team working with the filmmakers to score the film.

What kind of feeling is composing longer works after more than 200 ad music (whose lengths are presumably around 30 seconds)?

The main difference is that you are given the opportunity to write themes and then expand and explore those ideas. With advertising it tends to be about one musical idea working for the spot. With film you can create a much richer body of work and create many moods and textures all within that framework.

What are the other differences between ad music and movie soundtracks besides the obvious features (e.g. the length)?

Hollywood tends to think of film music as being orchestral. To us that is very limiting. The sounds and voices of an orchestra are amazing, but they are certainly not the only sounds available to a composer working in this century. We enjoy working with any musical sound we can get our hands on. We want to constantly challenge the mainstream ways of Hollywood and try to elevate the sound of our scores to represent a more modern and eclectic approach.

Do you think you had successfully met the specific requirements of soundtracks to get involved in future movies more seriously?

If we are going to be involved in future film projects it will be up to Hollywood, not us. We do not have an agent for film work. We find agents to be very hollow people who have nothing but there own interests at heart. For us to be involved in a film will require a producer or director to take the time and seek us out for their project. If the project is interesting and the filmmakers are good people we will be involved. We are not interested in becoming superstar Hollywood film composers. The ideas of having to score a film like Doom, or Legally Blond II is repulsive to us.

Monster´s Ball and Stay. Are you committed to the meditative style or we can expect faster Asche & Spencer compositions in the future?

We have scored what is in front of us. If a project comes to us that requires a different style we are more than ready.

How was the team formed which was responsible for the music of Monster´s Ball? Did you select the members one by one?

We all started working on that film together. As the film progressed it became evident based on the style of music we were composing that some of us were best served moving on to other projects. In the end three composers did most of the score for Monster´s Ball, Chris Beaty, Thad Spencer and Richard Werbowenko.

Monster´s Ball is a brilliant ambient music. How do you like the creator of this style, Brian Eno?

Brian Eno is an amazing musician, composer, and producer. We like his work very much.

On the cover of this disc there was a public thank you for Basil Poledouris (who is the only famous name among the listed persons as well). What is the reason behind this special attention beside the fact he naturally deserves it? Is he an ideal maybe?

Basil has been a friend of ours for many years. We have been neighbors in Venice for over ten years. His talent is matched by his kind spirit and warm heart. 

Whose is the last word when differing ideas arise? Is it yours?

We have been working together for many years. Creative differences are rarely a problem. If we are looking for creative clarification Thad Spencer is that person. But you must remember creative difference is a very positive thing. Powerful musical ideas comes from passionate thought.

Does the style depend on the client´s wish, or you are found by mainly those "customers" who prefer the intimate sounding?

We write whatever style of music the film needs. If our client has ideas we are all ears. But in the end our instincts tell us what is right and what is wrong.

The Stay is the second common work with director Marc Foster. Did your name rise in connection with the composition of Foster´s Finding Neverland before Oscar award winner Jan A.P. Kaczmarek was requested for the projecte?

Marc Forster asked us to score that film. However, politics intervened and the producer from Miramax decided to take the project to someone else. It was a very bad experience for us.

What were the director´s instructions regarding the music of Stay?

Stay has a very interesting feel. Because 90% of the film exists in the mind of a dying man the filmmakers had a great deal of latitude to shape and shift the environment. There are many subtle/dark visual textures working throughout the film that help the audience feel that something is not quite right. To support this mood we felt it was important to create a musical direction for the film that was unique. Marc Forster was very helpful during the formulation of that style. He flew us to New York during the preproduction faze of the film and spent a great deal of time showing us his vision for the movie. We sat in on some meetings with actors, talked with the set designer, the cinematographer, and the visual effects supervisor.. At the end of this trip we had a very clear idea of what we were going to see on film. One thing Marc said during this trip was that he wanted us to create a score for Stay that was both beautiful, and something he had never heard before. For a composer this is a dream come true.

The musical direction we chose for this film is a merging of several music styles. We started by creating instruments that would be unique to this score. We spent several weeks programming analog synthesizers, recording and sampling interesting musical instruments, and then shaping these sounds in the computer. The result was a pallet of instruments that we could use in a live setting. The entire score for Stay was recorded live. Each of us worked on our own in the pre-production faze of the score writing pieces that we could bring to the sessions and perform as a group. During these sessions these ideas were brought to life using a very traditional band like method. As a group we worked through the pieces shaping and evolving them so that all of the music had a unified direction and focus. After about three weeks of recording we had over four hours of music to send to the filmmakers. 

Our goal was to compose as much music as possible while Marc was shooting. We wanted the editor, Matt Chesse to have our score while he was getting the film from the shoot. We didn´t want any creative dilution caused by a temp score. But more importantly we wanted the film to be an organic merging of our music and the edit. The best way to do this is to give the editor our musical vision for the film as early as possible and let his cut be influenced by that music.

The last faze of the score was completed after the film was cut. We composed various cues that the pre-score material did not cover and were able to go back in and augment pre-score cues that needed a bit more shaping. The final aspect of the score was to arrange and record the string section that was placed on top of our live recordings.

This film is a thriller with dramatic elements. How different was the task from a musical point of view when compared to Monster´s Ball?

It is a very different film. The musical approach we took and the sounds we used are different from how we scored Monster´s Ball.

How much time did get you for composing Stay´s music? Wasn´t it too short?

Because we started writing before Marc started shooting we had over six months to work on this music. Of course we worked on other projects during those six months. But this method afforded us the luxury to explore and create much more music than a tradition schedule would permit. 

Does a strict deadline motivate you or on the contrary it disturbs you?

We are very used to working under extreme deadlines. They can be very motivational. However if one manages his time wisely and makes sure a project is managed properly, the need to work within a tight deadline should be nonexistent.

Is it easy to release a finished music from your hands? Or you always find something to amend in the already finished productions?

We had all the time we needed to rework every aspect of this score until we felt very comfortable letting it leave our control.

What was the feedback of Stay?

The American release for Stay was grossly mishandled by the studio. It was marketed as a horror/thriller film. It is anything but a horror/thriller film. It is a beautiful artistic film that has an interesting psychological theme. Unfortunately many people who would have enjoyed this film were not motivated to see it based on the misdirected marketing message.

Do you have any information about the customer´s interest towards your two released soundtracks?

If you like our music we are thrilled!

To know more about Asche & Spencer's work, please visit the group's official website.


Photographs from: Thad Spencer, Tom Kidd
Special thanks to Tom Kidd
December 6th, 2005

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